This week, after much discussion and soul-searching, my husband quit his job. A stoical guy who has worked full-time since he was 17, my husband needed lots of persuading to believe that his happiness is more important to our family than a paycheck. While he intends to begin his own photography business, he will also take over more of the household and parenting duties, giving me more time to devote to my own career.
I realize that his decision to quit a good job in today’s economy might seem foolish, or even dangerous. Our current climate no longer encourages following one’s dreams; instead most of us are just trying to hang on, wondering how much worse things can get. While I supported myself for years, I’ve never supported a family before. It frightens me a bit, and gives me a bit more empathy for traditional male breadwinners.
As a feminist, I believe that gender equity will not happen until men share equal responsibility for taking care of children. In the debate about “opting out” we rarely talk about the elephant in the room: why are women the ones who, overwhelmingly, make the choice to stay home? According to Rhona Mahony’s excellent book, most couples base their decisions about which parent will stay at home on income — and since income is a direct result of specific career choices, a woman’s choice of major in college may well determine whether or not she stays home with her children.
Although our daughter is now in kindergarten, the responsibilities of caring for her (and the house) still constitute a full-time job. But how will I feel when he starts to take over these “female” tasks? Will I be able to let go of my own ideas of how things “should” be done?
Of course, I’m aware that we are privileged. Although my salary is not high, I do have good health insurance and enviable job security: these are precious commodities that few enjoy. However, with one income we may not be able to afford many things that constitute a middle class lifestyle, and we will certainly have to give up lots of little luxuries. Ultimately, however, I hope that having happy, fulfilled parents – and a father who is around more – gives our daughter a stronger foundation than expensive lessons and fancy trips.
Today we sit, desk by desk, he processing photos and me drafting my syllabi, trying not to interrupt each other too much. It feels odd to be home together without our daughter. Suddenly, we’re able to be alone together for the first time since our daughter was born. Once classes start I will leave the house each day while he stays home; that will feel strange.